Longtime mayors face challenges – Penhale, Hayes, Roy leave mark on cities

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Three long-term mayors in Shelby County have left an enduring mark on their cities, and they say they aren’t prepared to step down as they grow into their retirement years.

George Roy of Calera, Charles &uot;Sonny&uot; Penhale of Helena and Bobby Hayes of Pelham all think they are the right candidates for their city’s mayoral post this fall. Their resumes are long and detailed with the milestones that accompany leadership roles in rapidly-growing cities. And they

can all read their names on streets, park signs and buildings in their hometowns.

Calera: George Roy, 36 years

George Roy first became mayor of Calera in 1960, and he has served in the city’s top leadership position for 36 years since then.

His fingerprint is literally everywhere in Calera. He helped open the city’s first wastewater treatment plant, city hall and fire station. Oliver Park opened during Roy’s tenure as mayor. George Roy Parkway and George Roy Park bear his name.

For the past eight years, Roy’s job as mayor has been to handle the constant property annexations into the city’s growing boundaries. Mostly, the city has grown into the north and east, but it also continues to grow south into neighboring Chilton County.

Roy remembers when Calera was four square miles. Today, it’s 88 square miles.

Roy remembers early talk of the looming growth awaiting Calera when he was mayor three decades ago. It didn’t come at first, so he looked to the city’s utilities to ignite growth.

&uot;We sat here for 25 years expecting to grow and didn’t,&uot; he said. &uot;So, we kept improving our utilities.&uot;

Interstate-65 was expanded to Calera in the early 1990s, priming the city for growth.

&uot;I felt like, 10 or 12 years ago, this could become very active for growth. It kept going east on 280 and North Shelby County. So, we kept on our utilities.&uot;

That did it. Today, Calera is home to 29 subdivisions, with 32 expected soon.

According to Roy, Calera is at the peak of its growth, issuing more building permits last year than Pelham and Alabaster combined.

Roy understands the issues surrounding growth, such as taxes, utilities and construction. He knows what order each should come, too.

&uot;Rooftops are what you’ve got to have to get commercial (growth),&uot; he said.

Roy keeps a close working relationship with the Calera utility department. He receives daily updates from utility director David Jones, and he eats fish with the utility workers on Fridays.

Roy knows Calera about as well as anybody. He has lived here since his mom got a job at the state sewing plant when he was five years old, and he spends time in the community rather than behind his desk. He knows most residents’ names, and their mommas and daddies, too.

He often leaves his office and goes out to sites where developers are working.

&uot;I spend as much time in the field as I do in the office,&uot; he said.

In 2001, a Wal-Mart Super Center opened on U.S. Highway 31 in Calera, boosting the city’s sales tax base. The city also serves as home to huge warehouses for companies such as Southern Living, Rainbird, Hilte, Fontaine and Sysco.

In his office, Roy is at home with his walls lined with leadership awards and special community recognitions. He has a framed picture of President George W. Bush.

Roy worked 45 years in the construction division of Ingalls Iron Works in Birmingham. He retired in 1993. He and his wife Elizabeth have five children, 12 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

Still, with a legacy in office and in his family, Roy easily navigates today’s fast-paced environment. He uses new computers and carries a cell phone on his belt.

For Roy, serving as Calera’s mayor began as an opportunity to help kids.

&uot;The main reason I got involved in politics is there was nothing here for the kids to do,&uot; he said.

His service also provided new opportunities for families and adults in the city.

&uot;You used to have to leave the city for dinner. I’m trying to bring it here,&uot; he said. &uot;We have adequate restaurants right here and more to come; and shopping.&uot;

WIth a good tax base from commercial and retail businesses, Roy said he has been able to provide better services for Calera residents. He said the city has been able to hire more paramedics, pave streets more often, spray for mosquitoes and build new parks.

Roy has learned how to cope with pressure.

&uot;To be a leader of any city you’ve got to be able to take the bad with the good; you can be criticized for many things – you’ve got to accept that and go on,&uot; he said. &uot;You try to feel out what’s best for the majority and that’s the way you go. You treat people the way you want to be treated and most of the time you’ll come out on top.&uot;

Helena: Charles &uot;Sonny&uot; Penhale, 36 years

When Helena residents and city officials felt they weren’t getting enough attention from the state Department of Transportation, Mayor Charles &uot;Sonny&uot; Penhale drove to Montgomery to meet with the governor.

It’s his ability to get special attention for Helena’s needs that make him a good leader, say supporters for his fall re-election campaign. Penhale entered the mayor’s office in 1968, and he has no plans of leaving.

His wife Sarah and he enjoy time with their two Shiztzu dogs, Prissy and Pepper. Otherwise, he spends most of his time serving the city he calls home.

Frances Parrish served 28 years as Helena’s city clerk under Penhale. She said his vision brought the young city of 900 residents to where it is today, with a population exceeding 12,000.

It’s that vision that foresaw Hillsboro South, located on property previously owned by U.S. Steel. The city began annexing land under Penhale in the 1970s, when there was nothing there, Parrish said.

Those who know Penhale know that he doesn’t say much, but Parrish said that doesn’t mean he isn’t active.

&uot;He will not sing his praises at all but he is always working for the best of Helena,&uot; she said. &uot;I think it was born in him. He saw the needs in Helena and found a way to meet those needs.&uot;

Joe Coggins is managing Penhale’s re-election campaign. He said Penhale’s connections, developed over a long career, enable him to push for Helena’s needs.

Coggins called Penhale’s connections in Washington, D.C., and Montgomery &uot;essential to funding.&uot; Penhale met with Governor George Wallace to get money for a school in Helena. Since then, he has met with Governors Jim Folsom, Fob James, Guy Hunt and current Governor Bob Riley.

Coggins, a former Shelby County Board of Education member, said that when Helena’s schools were in need, Penhale &uot;knew somebody to call to get the job done.&uot;

Penhale said the city is growing because people like what it has. Last Sunday, Penhale said a couple from Ohio pulled up in front of him and asked what homes were for sale in the city.

&uot;The word’s out,&uot; he said.

&uot;A boy from Louisiana came to cut grass here. He picked up and moved to Windham,&uot; he said.

Penhale has guided the city through obstacles and helped it through early developments. He helped design the city’s first comprehensive plan in the 1970s. He said he’s proud the city has stuck by the ideals set out in the original city guide.

Today, Coggins said that Penhale has a plan for the issues facing Helena, and many of them are already in place. For example, traffic is a major problem along Alabama Highway 261. Widening of that road between U.S. Highway 31 and Pelham High School is set to begin in the fall, after two meetings between Penhale and state DOT Director Joe McInnes.

Over the next 25 years, Helena will see three large master plans developed, including Hillsboro South, Old Cahaba and River Woods.

Jack Gray, chairman of the Helena Planning Commission, said Penhale’s partnerships have facilitated developments such as these.

This election, Penhale is facing several contenders for the city’s top leadership position. Just like previous campaigns, the retired ACIPCO foreman walks about four hours door-to-door each day. Penhale enjoys hitting each section of the city, which he considers one of the most civic-minded in the nation.

Pelham: Bobby Hayes,

20 years

Bobby Hayes hopes his legacy as mayor of Pelham is just beginning. He entered office in 1984 and hopes to add another four years with a victory in his re-election bid this fall.

Hayes is proud of his background. He joined the Birmingham Police Department in 1963 and retired in 1983, when he ran for mayor and was elected.

Hayes said he had some groups approach him about running, and he won 69 percent of the vote against a two-term mayor with a 12-year tenure on city council.

From the early days, Hayes directed the city’s growth with the sewer system. Pelham privatized its system, and the first place they layed lines was Alabama Highway 119.

&uot;Immediately, 119 just exploded,&uot; Hayes said.

As the sewer system progressed south on Highway 31, businesses just kept growing. Homes followed, and Hayes understands that they are best when they come in that order.

&uot;Business is the key – it pays for services to your residents,&uot; he said.

In 1984, during his first year as mayor, 300 businesses bought licenses in Pelham. Today, Pelham hosts more than 5,000 businesses.

Since 1990, 4,000 new homes and 703 commercial buildings were built in Pelham.

With a population of about 17,000, the City of Pelham employs about 300. So far this year, Pelham officials have issued 291 residential permits and 99 commercial permits.

The city averages about 50 commercial and 300 homes per year.

Currently, the city is watching the Ballantrae subdivision go up. Eventually, the massive complex will feature 3,800 new homes.

Hayes brought in an old buddy from his days on the Birmingham SWAT team, Mike Morgan, to direct the city’s revenue department. Morgan, who just completed his 14th budget for the city, said he watched Hayes do budgets for years in the Birmingham Police Department. The city’s FY 2003-2004 budget was about $27.5 million.

Morgan also jumped out of helicopters with Hayes, a man that Morgan said knows how to lead.

&uot;When he brings you on board, he gives you the latitude to do your job, but he checks on you. He’s not patient; he expects you to get started,&uot; Morgan said.

&uot;He’s a guy that doesn’t back up from anything. He’s always optimistic about what we can accomplish,&uot; Morgan said. &uot;I’ve never seen him fail.&uot;

Hayes is a man with stories to tell, and he often does. He has entered burning buildings behind the nozzle of a fire hose; he has climbed steep ladders and spider-dropped off of the sides of buildings. Hayes said he did it all because you &uot;can’t convince somebody to do something that you wouldn’t do.&uot;

Morgan said Hayes commands instant respect.

&uot;He takes the same tactics from then and applies them today with the finesse that he’s got and he takes everybody to another level,&uot; Morgan said.

Despite the tough demeanor walking around in his trademark snakeskin cowboy boots, Hayes said he also relies upon humor. Hayes tells lots of stories and prides himself on the ability to make any situation funny.

&uot;That’s what makes you a good leader. There is humor in every situation,&uot; he said. &uot;You sometimes have to look deep to pull it out.&uot;

Hayes is a family man, dedicated to his wife Judy and their 3 kids and 9 grandkids. He does not accept any appointment past 6 p.m.

&uot;My wife’s an important player,&uot; he said.

For Hayes, serving as the mayor of Pelham is a chance to help.

&uot;On days that you can help somebody that has a problem, it’s fun…a great day.

&uot;When we can’t, it not too good a day,&uot; he said, noting there are &uot;far more good than bad&uot; days